Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Indo-European Mythology 1

1.  Mythology Sources
List and discuss the major primary sources for the mythology of three Indo-European cultures, including their dates of origin and authorship (if known). Discuss any important factors that may cause problems in interpreting these sources, such as the existence of multiple revisions, or the presence of Christian or other outside influences in surviving texts. (minimum 300 words)
Mythology is a very significant piece of any religion.  It is through the mythology of the different cultures that we have learned about the deities and how ancient people perceived and interacted with them.  The Indo-Europeans were no exception.  Each culture had mythology and practices that were passed down through their generations.  Unfortunately many of those myths and rites were destroyed or changed by practitioners of monotheistic religions, including Christianity, in an effort to convert Pagans to their faith. This has limited our knowledge of the ancient Indo-European cultures and mythology to a very few sources.   The three cultures that appear to have the most sources available to them are Hellenic, Norse, and Celtic. 
The Hellenic culture has wealth of sources to learn about the mythology and practices of the people.  There were numerous poets and philosophers in their culture that helped to spread the tales of heroes and deities throughout the land.  Probably the most well known of these is Homer, who is attributed with both the Iliad and the Odyssey. These epic poems tell the stories of the city of Troy and the hero Odysseus and introduce us to many different mythological figures, events, and locations.  These poems were written between 800 and 600 BCE, but the exact time is not known because Homer lived before a modern calendar system was used (Atsma, Theoi Greek Mythology).  The Homeric Hymns were also written in a similar “epic style” and include poems and invocations for numerous deities.  Several different writers wrote these 33 poems during the seventh to sixth century BCE (Atsma, Homeric Hymns).  They include hymns to the Olympians, several heroes, and other deities.  The Orphic Hymns also give us more information about the deities.  These hymns are made up of 87 religious poems from the third or second century BCE (Atsma, Orphic Hymns).  There are poems to many different deities, including both the Olympians and many of the lesser-known deities. Outside of these three sources there are multiple other writers whose work survived through the years.  Aesop, Hesiod, Sophocles and many others gave us a well of information to draw from, making the Hellenic society one of the most well know of the Indo-European cultures.  The only major issues with these sources are the problem of translation or the issue of not knowing the original author. 
The Norse culture has a much smaller pool of information to draw from when it comes to their Indo-European roots.  Much of their information has been lost over time, but the people of Iceland provide us with two valuable sources, the Poetic and Prose Eddas.  The Poetic Eddas were written down between 1000 and 1300 C.E. (Hare, The Poetic Edda) and are made up of a variety of poems written about the deities and heroes of the Norse culture.  The Prose Eddas is written by Snorri Sturluson in the thirteenth century (Hare, The Prose Edda).  It is a compilation of Norse mythology that describes the creation, pantheon, and cosmology of this culture.  Early Christians may have influenced many of these stories as well, but there is no sure way to know. 
To learn about the Celtic culture, we are forced to look at resources from outside of the Celtic society. Celtic mythology did not survive through the conquest by Rome and conversion to Christianity (Eddy). The knowledge that we do have comes from a variety of sources including Lebor na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow), the Book of Leinster, and the Rawlinson Excidium Troie (The Destruction of Troy) (Wikipedia).  The Book of the Dun Cow was written in the 12th century and is made up of the work from three different scribes.  It is an incomplete manuscript, but does give insights into the deities, daily life, and cosmology of the Celtic people.    The Book of Leinster was written in the twelfth century and is once again made up of writings from multiple writers.  It gives information about the mythology and genealogy of the people.  The Destruction of Troy tells the story of the city of Troy from a different perspective, which definitely interested many people.  There are numerous other resources that are fragmented or written much later, but Christianity has influenced much of it heavily.   Many of the texts that we do have were written by numerous people and have been translated repeatedly, which makes it much more difficult to them validate as being authentic to the original myth. 
Mythology is prevalent in every religion.  The fact that we have the amount of sources that we do is a blessing because so much history has been lost in time.  It is only through hard work and dedication that we have learned as much as we have. 
2.  Mythology Compare/Contrast
Summarize, then compare and contrast the myths of at least two Indo-European cultures with respect to the following topics (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each topic): (minimum 300 words for each)

·      Tales of Creation
Creation stories tell us how a society views the formation of the universe.  Every culture has a story to explain where it all started.   The Greeks have multiple versions of the creation story, but in one of them, the universe begins with Nyx.  Nyx is a giant bird with black wings.  She was impregnated by the wind and lays a golden egg.  Once the egg hatches, Eros, the god of love, was born.  It was Eros who brought light to the world (Kerenyi).  The two halves of the egg became the earth and the sky.  Nyx named the earth Gaia and the sky Ouranus and Eros made them fall in love.
Norse mythology also tells the creation story as a universe that is created from nothingness.  Ginnungagp was  the “Yawning Void” with Niflheim, the realm of ice and Muspellheim, the realm of fire on either side (Sturlson 18).  As these two realms approached each other the heat met the ice and it started to melt.  It is from the drips of this melting, the form of Ymir is formed.  As Ymir worked and sweated more giants were born.  As the ice continues to melt Audhumbla, a cow, is freed from the ice and she in turn frees Buri, the first of the Aesir and grandfather of Odin.  Odin slays Ymir and builds the world from his corpse using his blood as the waters, flesh as soil, and the skull for the sky.  Dwarves hold up the sky at the 4 corners of the world.    
Both of these stories begin with the idea of the universe being created from empty chaos. They also explain how we manage to get both the land and the sky.  However, this particular version of the Greek myth does not have the story of destruction of the first being to create the world.  Instead we see the shell of “love” used to create the world.

·      Tales of Divine War
Divine wars are another theme that is common within Indo-European mythology.  Frequently these battles are fought in an effort to gain power from another group.  Within the Greek culture there are multiple instances of divine wars throughout the ages.  The battles first began when Ouranos and Gaia began having children.  Ouranos would hide the children under the earth to prevent them from taking control.  However, Gaia conspired with her children and Ouranos was overthrown by Kronos, who cut him into pieces and scattered the parts across the world.  Gaia then warned Kronos that he would suffer a similar fate.  He decided to try to prevent his fate by eating his children whole as soon as his wife Rhea had given birth to them (Kerenyi 22).  Once again, the mother of the children conspired against her husband and Rhea tricked Kronos into believing he had eaten Zeus when she had actually fed him a bag of rocks.  Zeus later defeated Kronos and freed his siblings from his father’s stomach.  Kronos was locked away in Tartarus to prevent him from causing more trouble.  There are other similar tales in Greek mythology, including a war between the Olympians and the Giants. 
The Norse culture has its own telling of divine war between the Aesir and the Vanir, the two primary tribes of deities in Norse mythology. Freya is the goddess of love and fertility, and one of the Vanir.  She travelled to Asgard to visit the Aesir and while there the Aesir tried to kill her three different times and yet she managed to be reborn each time (McCoy).  The Vanir were incredibly upset by this attack and eventually the hostilities between the two tribes caused them to go to war.  The war continued with no clear winner until the two groups decided to call a truce. 
While both of these wars were fought between two separate groups of deities, the cause and results were both very different.  In the Greek war, the Titans and Olympians fought to try to gain power for their own group and there was always a clear winner.  In this Norse tale, one group feeling disrespected by the other caused the fight. It ended in a truce with no real victor.  However, both of these battles seem quite petty in the scheme of things. 
·      Tales Which Describe the Fate of the Dead
Humans have always strived to try to explain what happens to us after we die.  It is one question that we cannot answer so ancient cultures would create mythology to try to explain.  The Greeks had a very complex view of the afterlife and the underworld.  They had funeral processions and honored their dead as much as possible. In general they believed that your actions in life greatly effected what happened to someone after they died.   People who were good and loved in life were given an afterlife in a place that was full of joy, Elysium.  It was from Elysium that people were allowed to be reborn and if they were able to make it to Elysium three times they were reward by an afterlife in the Isles of the Blessed.  People who lived a life with no distinguishable path had a very boring and neutral afterlife, spent in the Fields of Asphodel.  However, those who were evil were severely punished in the Fields of Punishment and frequently the punishment was directly matched to the crimes that were committed.  
In the Slavic culture death was viewed as a doorway to another life.  It was not an end but “an embarkation” (Phillips 81).  They often tried to blur the lines between life and death and celebrated the departed through festivals and rituals.  One particular festival is Radunitsa, which was held in the spring in remembrance of the dead.  They left gifts on the graves of the deceased and feasted to celebrate life.  They saw death as a journey so it was not something to be feared.  Slavs had a tree cosmology similar to that of Norse mythology with the treetop being the realm of the deities and the roots representing Nav, the underworld. The Underworld was ruled by the Veles and was thought to be a green and joyful place filled with the spirits of all who had passed. 
These two cultures have similar ideas in their death mythology, honoring those who have passed and using festivals to remember them.  Both of these cultures also have mythology of spirits returning to the land of the living from the underworld.  However, there did not appear to be a form of punishment for wrongdoings in the Slavic mythology like there was in Greek myths. 
3.  Mythology Elements
Explain how each of the following elements of ADF ritual does or does not resonate with elements of two different Indo-European cultures (you need not use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for each element): (minimum 100 words for each)
·      Earth Mother
The Earth Mother is an incredibly important figure within the ADF ritual structure.  She is the first and last deity recognized in any ADF rite.  Therefore it only makes sense that nearly every Indo-European culture has an interpretation of the earth mother as well.  The earth mother was loved “because of its permanence, because all things came from and returned to it” (Eliade 240). In the Greek culture, the Earth mother is Gaia.  She is not only the physical earth, but also the mother of all the Titans, which makes her the grandmother to the Olympians.  It is through her that much life is given.
In Slavic mythology Mat Zemlya was the original Mother Earth, but the identity eventually blended with Mokosh, the goddess of fertility and women’s work (Phillips 54).  Harvest time rituals were held to honor the Earth mother.  It was believed that she could combat evil so the Slavs would plow the earth to release power against illness.
·      Deities of Land
Within Greek mythology, there is definitely a presence of land deities and spirits.  The first name I think of in this regard is Demeter.  Demeter is the goddess of the harvest and grains.  She can bring life and nourishment to the world, and it is her emotional reaction to Persephone’s fate that has caused the cycle of the seasons.  A second deity that Greek mythology associates with the land is Pan.  He is the god of the wild, mountains, hunting, and flocks.
Slavic mythology also has a presence of deities of the land.  Jarilo is the Slavic god of vegetation and fertility.  His life cycle follows the cycles of the seasons, being born in the spring with the seeds, growing through the summer, fading in the fall, and dying in the winter.  This appears to be a recurring theme, where the deity of the harvest or nature has an effect on the seasons, or vice versa. 
·      Deities of Sea
There is also a presence of sea deities in Greek mythology, including many different tales of heroes and deities interacting with the sea and the beings associated with them. Poseidon is the most well known sea deity in the Greek pantheon.  He was the god of the sea, tamer of horses, and causer of earthquakes.  Oceanus, the Titan, is considered a God of the ocean.   There are also numerous smaller beings, including Naiads, Oceanides, river gods, and many others who work with the realms of the waters. 
      Celtic mythology also has several different sea deities and being associated with bodies of water.  Lir was the god of the sea, and father of Manannan mac Lir.  Grannus was the god of spas and mineral springs.  There are also numerous deities of local rivers and lakes, as well as nature spirits.   
·      Deities of Sky
In most Indo-European cultures the sky or upperworld was the realm of the gods. This made deities of the sky very important and powerful in many socities.  Greek mythology, the sky was the home of the deities.  Zeus is the king of the Gods and ruler of Olympus, the realm of the sky. He is also the god of thunder and storms.  Greek mythology also has several other deities that also work in the realm of the sky, including Iris the goddess of rainbows and Helios, the god of the Sun. 
Norse mythology also had multiple sky deities.  Thor was the god of thunder, lightning, and storms.  Sunna is the personification of the sun itself, with Mani, the moon, as her brother.  Each of these deities has their own specific duties in the sky, and without each of them doing their part the world would suffer. 
·      Outsiders
The outsiders are one piece of ADF liturgy that is debated frequently.  Some people feel that their acknowledgement is important, while others proceed without it completely.  However, the idea of a group of beings that was not harmonious to every day life was definitely present in Indo-European cultures.  Greek mythology does not specifically discuss the idea of outsiders, but there are definitely parts of the mythology that would fit.  The Titans in general were looked at as outsiders to the Greeks and one of the divine wars was fought in an effort to keep the Titans controlled and locked away.  There were also several other deities that may be viewed as outsiders, such as Deimos and Phobos, the gods of fear and panic. Similarly, the Norse culture has many myths about battles between the frost giants and the gods (Sturlson). 
·      Nature Spirits
In ADF, nature spirits are defined as both those natural elements that live in our realm, such as the plants and animals, and those spiritual beings of the natural world.  Nature spirits were a huge part of Greek mythology.  Not only were plants and animals viewed as having special attributes of their own which often used as omens, there was an entire pantheon of nature spirits, such as Dryads, Nymphs, and Satyrs that represented the different aspects of the natural world.
Slavic mythology had a similar practice of including multiple nature spirits in their mythology.  They had multiple sea spirits, including Vila and Vodyanye, and land spirits called Leshii which were the protectors of plants an animals (Phillips 66-72)
·      Ancestors
The ancestors are a very important part of ADF.  It is from our ancestors that we learn and grow. Without the ancestors we would not be around.  Ancestor worship and reverence was also a huge part of many Indo-European cultures.  The Slavic culture would hold festivals where they would remember their dead and leave them gifts, but instead of mourning they would feast and be joyful for the life that their ancestors had lived.  They saw the underworld as a refuge of the soul after a long journey and were thankful for the peace that their ancestors would experience. 
Greek mythology shows a definite reverence of the ancestors, including sharing the stories of their loved ones who have passed.  They had strong connections to their ancestors of blood and would hold feasts and rituals for them, leaving them offerings and gifts. 
4.  Cosmology Elements
Discuss how the following seven elements of ADF's cosmology are (or are not) reflected in the myths of two different Indo-European cultures. For this question, please use the same two cultures as a basis of comparison for the entire question. (minimum 100 words each)
·      Upperworld
ADF Cosmology views the upper world as the realm of the Gods.  The upper world in Greek mythology was Olympus, the realm of the Gods.  It was the meeting place of the Olympians and the home of many of them.  Olympus was built by the Cyclops in gratitude for being set free from Tartarus by Zeus. 
In Slavic cosmology the universe is laid out in a tree similar to the Norse.  However, instead of 9 realms, they viewed the tree as being divided into three parts.  The upper realm represented the sky and realm of the deities.  This realm was called Svarog, which simply meant sky (Wikipedia, Slavic Mythology).   The deities were said to look down at the world through the stars.   
·      Middleworld
Within ADF cosmology the middle realm is the world that we inhabit.  It is the world of the plants and animals, along with natural elements of the world such as mountains and rivers.   The middleworld in Greek mythology is represented in the same way as ADF views cosmology.  It is made up the physical land we live on along with the plants and animals that we know.  The middleworld also contained the nature spirits, such as Dryads and Nymphs.
In Slavic cosmology the middle world is also where we live.  In this realm we once again see the mortal beings: humans, plants, and animals.  In addition to these mortals there are also numerous land and water spirits that are said to exist in this realm, including Rusalka and Leshii (Phillips 72), which ranged from helpful, beautiful creatures to beings of darkness and danger.
·      Divisions Of Middleworld (e.g., 4 Quarters, 3 Triads, 8 Sections)
Divisions of the middleworld are one aspect ADF cosmology that I do not particularly associate with.  However, it is a feature that is prominent in many of the Indo-European cultures. Greek mythology did not have a particular division of the Middle world.  The only division that seems relevant is the division of the four directional winds. These winds often played a role in the lives of heroes on quests and other deities, but the realm was not necessarily divided between those entities.
The Slavic culture did have a horizontal division of the middle realm.  They divided the realm into the four cardinal points, which also represented the directions of the wind (Wikipedia, Slavic Mythology).  This division was represented in Svetovid, the god of war and fertility.  He was represented as a four-headed god that faced the four separate directions.
·      Nether/Underworld
The afterlife in Greek mythology was one area that was very complex.  Therefore, it only makes sense that the underworld itself is also very complicated. Several rivers, each of which has a purpose, surround the underworld.  The Acheron is the river of woe, the Cocytus is the river of lamentation, the Phelgethon is the river of fire, Styx is the river of unbreakable oath, and Lethe is the river of forgetfulness (The Underworld).  The land itself is also divided into several sections. The Fields of Punishment were meant for those people who committed crimes in life.  Their suffering was based upon their actions.  The Fields of Asphodel were for those people who lived a neutral life and did not become either very good or very bad.  Elysium was reserved for those who were very good and loved by the gods.  From here they were given the option to be reborn.  The Isles of the Blessed was reserved for those people who had chosen to be reborn three times and had managed to make it to Elysium each lifetime. 
In the Slavic culture death was thought to be a refuge of the soul after a long journey. The underworld in Slavic cosmology was represented as the roots of the World Tree, below the middle realm.  This underworld was said to be the resting place for those who had passed on.  The realm is ruled by Velas, but amongst the undead there is no apparent division between those who lived a good life and those who lived a neutral or evil life. 
·      Fire
Fire is arguably the most important tool for an ADF ritual.  In ADF cosmology it is viewed as the way that we communicate with the deities and give them offerings.  Fire played a huge part in all Indo-European cultures.  It was what allowed them to warm their houses and cook their food.  It was their livelihood and was apparent in their mythology as well. Man received fire as a gift from the Titan Prometheus.  Zeus had become angry with humans and was keeping all fire from them and Prometheus stole it from Olympus and returned it to the middleworld.  Another important piece of fire in Greek mythology was Hestia. Hestia was the goddess of the hearth and home. She is responsible for tending the hearth of Olympus and is honored for her work.
Fire was also incredibly important to the Slavic people.  They revered both the sun and the domestic hearth and considered them both to be sacred entities.  There were actually limitations on who was allowed to light the hearth fire, and when the hearth was being lit, silence and respect were expected (Phillips 40). 
·      Well
The well in ADF cosmology is our gateway to the underworld. While water played an important part in the lives and religion of the Greek people, wells were not specifically recognized.  Many of the Ancient Greek cities were built along rivers, which would provide a good water source, so wells were not used as frequently as they may have been in some other parts of the Indo-European region.  However, water in general was revered and there are many different water deities and spirits that reflect this.  Also, the gateway to the underworld requires the crossing of a river, so there is still a watery entrance to the realm of the dead.
Slavic mythology also seems to be lacking well specific mythology.  However, for the ancient Slavs, water was sacred itself.  The Slavic people lived along the river and used the water as a means for travel and trading. They also recognized that water could be an enemy with enormous power, including flooding and massive storms.  However, it was also seen as the giver of life, bringing life to the crops and natural world (Phillips 49). 
·      Tree
In ADF mythology, the tree represents the sacred center of the universe and the connection to the cosmos.  In Greek mythology and practices, the Axis Mundi is expressed as the Omphalos and not as a tree as it is in many other cultures.  However, trees were still used as a place of worship.  “From Minoan times, right up till the twilight of Hellenism, we always find the tree used for worship beside a rock” (Eliade 270). 
The tree was a huge part of Slavic cosmology.  They viewed the cosmos as being laid out in the form of a tree, similar to that of the Norse mythology.  This tree was divided into three separate realms, the upper realm of the gods, middle realm of the mortals, and under realm of the dead.  This tree was the connection to the cosmos and the sacred center of the universe (Wikipedia, Slavic Mythology).
5.  Mythology Variations
To what extent do you think we can offer conjectures about Indo-European myths in general? Are the common themes strong enough that the myths seem like variations? Or are the differences so powerful that the themes are less important than the cultural variations? (minimum 300 words)
            Each Indo-European society has its own mythology, pantheon, and cosmic view of the universe.  These myths are what form the basis of many of the ancient religions.  It is also through this mythology that we have learned of the ancient Indo-European cultures.  Conjecture is defined as “the formation or expression of an opinion or theory without sufficient evidence for proof” ( Unabridged).  In this usage, I believe we can always offer conjectures about Indo-European mythology because no proof is required.  However, I believe what this question is asking is if I believe that the mythology of the different Indo-European cultures represent archetypes, or if they exist as individual entities in each and every form.
Mythologies across many different cultures show us a variety of intersecting themes.  Indo-European cultures specifically contain numerous areas that the mythology seems to overlap.  There are too many of these commonalities to think that they could be coincidental.  For example, divine wars, Mother Earth worship, and thunder gods can be seen in multiple cultures. We also see a frequent presence of some being (or beings) that can see and control the fate of humans.  More generically, there are frequent tales of heroic conquests and some form of Axis Mundi.  These repeated themes make it evident to me that there must be some connection between the different cultures that caused mythology to be shared between the groups.  I think that many of the myths may be variations of the same theme to fit a specific culture, but there may also be myths that are specific to a single culture as well. 
Mythology was often used as a way to share a message or teach a lesson to people.  In this use, it only makes sense that you would see repeated messages in the mythology.  Every culture has the need to explain the importance of fire, the danger of a heavy storm, and what happens when you die to their people.  It is possible that this basic need for humans to explain the world around them is what causes some of these common themes as well. 


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